PARMA, Ohio — Teachers at Summit Academy Parma began striking Tuesday morning, calling for better conditions for themselves and their students.
It is over an Unfair Practice charge against the charter school for their failure to negotiate in good faith, stated a representative for the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
Teachers at the school have been seeking improved health and safety conditions, manageable class sizes and caseloads, planning periods, and standards that would allow the school to retain quality teachers, according to a news release from the OFT and Cleveland Alliance for Charters Teachers and Staff.
The school serves about 200 students, mainly those with behavioral and learning disabilities.
“Our priority is better learning conditions for our students,” said Todd Ratica, a middle and high school Social Studies teacher and member of the bargaining committee. “Summit Academy Management has different priorities. In our negotiations, they even told us ‘students are revenue.’ We didn’t want to strike, but it was necessary to guarantee the resources that our students deserve.”
Parents and students came to the picket line to support teachers Tuesday morning as the temperature hovered around 13 degrees.
Sophomore Angelina Patrick said she wanted to be there for her teachers because they are always there for her.
"Just seeing all the pain and stress they’re going through everyday with all the students, you know, this is a school for kids with disabilities, and hard learning problems," Patrick said. "My teachers are always there for their students."
Art teacher Kelly Granda, who has been at the school for 15 years, said they are only asking for what is best for their students.
"It’s dirty, things are falling apart, we had a scabies outbreak this year," Granda said. "We will make sure that we will not go back to our classrooms until it is the school that they deserve."
State Rep. Jeff Crossman came to show his support as well, calling for city leaders and the health department to take action.
"We want to make sure that the environment itself is physically sound and that there are no health concerns," Crossman said. "We want to make sure the resources the teachers need to teach our students are there for them."
According to the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, inspectors did come out to the school Tuesday at the request of Parma city leaders. Officials said inspectors did not find anything that poses an immediate risk to student safety, but their official report will be completed in the next 48 hours.
Teachers plan to strike every day until a deal is reached, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The union voted unanimously to strike on Jan. 31, but scheduled an additional bargaining date with school management on Feb. 15 to try to avert the strike.
The school released this statement on Thursday, Feb. 14:
Summit Academy is disappointed by the union’s recent vote to authorize a strike at our school in Parma. Our team has scheduled additional negotiations with the union and we remain hopeful that those discussions will reach a workable solution for both parties without threatening the operation of the school and focus on the students their members signed contracts to serve.
On Feb. 15, representatives with Summit Academy management and the union met for nearly 12 hours, according to the school’s website. Despite a federal monitor, negotiations failed the resolve the union’s complaints, and the schools management said they felt they were actually moving further from an agreement.
"We were willing to forgo economic increases for teachers to ensure the staffing and class sizes that Summit Academy claims to provide. Summit Academy Management rejected that proposal," said Heather Sedlack, a high school intervention specialist and member of the bargaining committee. "We also wanted to go back to the table over the weekend, but management claimed they weren't available. We're focused on making sure our students get the attention they deserve."
Classes have been canceled for Tuesday, Feb. 19 and Wednesday, Feb. 20, with the school declaring them professional development days. Regular classes are scheduled to resume on Thursday, Feb. 21, according to the school’s website.
Cleveland ACTS is only the third union in the country to have charter school teachers go on strike, the OFT news release states. Previously, charter school teachers went on strike once in Los Angeles and twice in Chicago, including a strike that ended on Monday.